If the future looks as some urban planners and business interests predict, city dwellers increasingly will abandon their cars and instead use a network of shared driverless vehicles to pick them up, drop them off, and head out to get the next passengers.
It’s a big “if,” but companies from different corners of the transportation sector — including ride-hail services, rental firms, and even traditional auto manufacturers — are betting on it. These companies already compete with one another, offering different ways for their customers to get from A to B. But if driverless technology fundamentally changes the way people use the roads, it could also erase the boundaries that have long kept these businesses separate.
Take, for instance, Boston-based hourly car rental service Zipcar and the ride-hail firm Uber. Both consider self-driving technology a key part of their future, which could put their business models on a collision course. After all, once you eliminate the driver, what’s the difference between renting a car and hailing a ride?
“Everybody’s entering the market for driverless mobility as a service,” said Egil Juliussen, an auto expert with the research firm IHS Markit. “Once the car drives itself, it becomes the same thing. The business model for ride-hailing and car-sharing essentially merge.”
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